Eighteen years have passed since California first recalled an elected governor. That 2003 Republican coup, culminating in a global movie star without administrative experience ascending into the state’s highest official position, was somehow less extraordinary than the GOP takeover attempt we face today.
The current recall election looms large as the deadline to vote in the special election is Tuesday. For all the talk about mask mandates and vaccine resistance, what many people don’t realize is that this recall election wouldn’t be taking place if not for a small band of Republican insiders capitalizing on California’s uniquely flawed recall law.
According to their original narrative, organizers of the current recall engaged in a grassroots effort to expel the governor based on his liberal stances on the death penalty, immigration, gun control and taxes. Their early efforts yielded sparse results: As of November 2020, with time nearly gone, less than half of the necessary 1.5 million signatures had been collected. Recall organizers appealed for more time, citing the pandemic.
But a California judge granted them an additional 120 days to gather signatures, which Republicans used to badger the Newsom administration’s pandemic response.
The coalition of Trumpers, anti-vaxxers and “don’t-tread-on-me” diehards trying to oust the governor is not an organic phenomenon. As campaign disclosure forms filed by the “Rescue California—To Support the Recall of Gavin Newsom” committee show, their rough-hewn, down-home narrative is an elaborate facade.
Not only will this recall election cost California taxpayers an estimated—and jaw-dropping—$215 million, but a small cabal of GOP veterans who have coordinated the recall effort’s sophisticated data-driven mailing operation is poised to make some big money as well.
Anne Dunsmore, a political consultant for the recall and former campaign bundler for Rudy Giuliani’s 2007 run for president, has seen her own companies profit to the tune of more than $500,000, and that amount could reach a million by the time the final vote is cast. As of June 30, the Rescue California committee owed Dunsmore’s companies an additional $281,000, meaning that any money recall organizers collect between now and Sept. 14 will almost certainly go into Dunsmore’s and other GOP operatives’ pockets.
So, what’s the recall election really about?
Republicans may not be good at winning general elections these days, but they have become creative in how they exploit loopholes in electoral processes, as evidenced by the slew of voter-repression bills recently adopted by Republican-dominated state legislatures.
In California, where no Republicans have won a regular state-level race since 2006, they have exploited the recall tool, which was intended to give power to the people. The far-right has manipulated this tool to try and shift the balance of power in California in a low-turnout special election.
California has myriad challenges—the pandemic, wildfires and housing to name a few—but we can improve our situation by rejecting this Republican power grab.
Please vote “No.”
Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley) represents District 28 in the California Assembly. Josh Newman (D-Orange County) represents District 29 in the California Senate.